Welcome to the Gridiron Geek's Front-Runner Awards, where we delve deep into the world of football journalism to celebrate (feel the sarcasm!) the very best in favoring the favorites.
As a youngster, I often thought that front-runners were the purposefully evil minions of the sports world, doing their best, or worst, to ensure that the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Red Wings, Auburn Tigers, and so on, were artificially favored over small-market, lesser-known teams.
But time and experience have taught me a few things. Front-runners are typically not conscious of being front-runners, which helps explain why the phenomenon continues unabated.
For instance, if we are to take the NFL Network's collective word, the Dallas Cowboys have been the most talented team in the league for 10 straight seasons. They were the most talented team when they went 6-10 in 2010, and they still had the most talent in the league last season when they finished 8-8.
If the Cowboys finish 8-8 this year, Rich Eisen will appear on camera next August and ask Marshall Faulk which team has the most talent in the NFC, and Faulk will frown thoughtfully and say, "I think the Cowboys..."
We can either conclude that this is a grand conspiracy, that all NFL Network analysts are secretly vetted by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, or we can realize that there are other factors at work.
Of course, money plays a big role in deciding which teams will be hyped in the media, but it's not everything. The New York Jets produce a lot of money for ESPN, but no one on national TV is predicting that the Jets will win the Super Bowl this season.
The truth about front-running has more to do with human nature. Journalists (and fans) are human beings, and humans are lazy. We prefer to assume that history will repeat itself, that losing teams will always continue to lose, and stardom equals success.
In hindsight, it is easy to understand why Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson, but at the time, nobody gave it an iceberg's chance in hell of happening.
Also, few "experts" take the time to scout every NFL or college team thoroughly. Familiarity breeds favoritism. Chris Mortensen has probably watched more Cowboys practices than all other teams put together, and players tend to look great in seven-on-seven drills with nobody tackling them. The sports media may love an underdog story, but in making predictions, they favor who they see all the time.
Accordingly, the Frontrunner Awards are not meant to personally embarrass anyone. But that does not change the fact that small-market, under-hyped teams are getting the shaft from the media on a consistent basis. And the Geek favors fairness and justice above all.
So, with that in mind, here are our three medalists for this week.
Gold Medal: Andy Behrens, Yahoo Sports, for "The New Orleans Saints are the NFL's Number One Fantasy Team in 2012"
The Geek has never been a fan of fantasy football. There is something unnatural about ignoring the actual outcomes of games and adding up a bunch of statistics to see who "won." But assuming you choose to indulge in the "fantasy" of the NFL as a gigantic math equation, one must realize that a handicapped team will suffer in the stat lines.
Mr. Behrens obviously lacks perspective in thinking that the Saints' offense will simply continue as if the bounty scandal never happened. Their defense will be crippled in the short term, meaning that the offense will have less time with the football and less advantageous field position.
New Orleans isn't just missing its head coach, the Saints are missing their interim head coach, and the fact that Drew Brees gets a lot of search results on Google or Twitter is not going to magically repair the damage.
Behrens also trumpets Darren Sproles as the most productive back in the league heading into this season, ignoring that running backs, especially smaller ones, go in cycles. Sproles isn't more talented than Adrian Peterson or more versatile than Reggie Bush. He was just healthy and hot in 2011, and played in a well-tuned Ferrari of an offense.
Considering the Saints an indomitable scoring machine heading into 2012-13 is a classic example of a front-runner fallacy: that the recent past is destined to repeat itself again and again. As Bill Parcells is fond of pointing out, every year is a new deal.
The Saints will not be on top of the NFC this season, in fantasy stats or otherwise.
Roger Goddell has seen to that.
Silver Medal: Mike Golic, ESPN, for "The Arizona Cardinals' defense is not very good."
"Mike & Mike in the Morning" is one of the better sports shows in America. Mike Greenberg may be the second-most elegant and polished host on the air these days in any genre, just behind the incomparable Garrison Keilor of "The Prairie Home Companion."
But Greenberg's grunting sidekick, Mike Golic, is apparently a little too busy eating pizza laced with Tobasco sauce to astutely know his subject matter.
On a recent "Mike and Mike's Two-A-Days," the show's annual preseason preview of all 32 NFL teams, Golic was in the process of derisively burying the Arizona Cardinals when he stated, somewhat in passing, that the Arizona defense is obviously below average heading into 2012.
This demonstrates that not only did Golic not watch any game film of the Cards in 2011, but that he probably hasn't even read any game recaps of the team's 7-1 run to end the season.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton's Steelers-West defense carried the Cardinals through the latter half of the year after struggling through several early games. The pattern of Arizona's wins in December reminded me of Philadelphia during the Donovan McNabb years— kickoff, receive punt, punt, receive punt, punt, receive punt, connect on a big play, win by a field goal.
The Bidwill Birds' offense is clearly a below average unit. The defense is clearly above average.
But Golic, probably staring at a stat sheet that combined all 16 games, merely recalled that Arizona is a small-market team that didn't make the playoffs in 2011, and that Larry Fitzgerald plays wide receiver there.
So in the two-and-a-half minutes he spent thinking critically about Arizona this offseason, he concluded that the defense must be a weakness.
Hooray for Tobasco.
Bronze Medal: Max Manasevit, Bleacher Report, for "Notre Dame is a Dark-Horse BCS Title Contender"
Foremost, I must give credit where credit is due, and not just because Max is my Bleacher Report brother-in-arms.
It is refreshing to read an article where a team that doesn't play in Alabama, Louisiana or Oklahoma is touted as a serious national championship contender. The Fighting Irish are clearly improved going into 2012, and it would be tremendous to see an independent school contend for the BCS title.
However, rating the Irish that high is premature. Manasevit points to the season-opening win over Navy as evidence, but the Midshipmen are still struggling to rebuild after losing Ricky Dobbs to a battleship in the Pacific. Any ranked team would be likely to blow out Navy at this point.
The author is falling prey to yet another front-runner fallacy: Notre Dame fever.
No amount of tradition, enthusiasm or leadership could make up for the fact that at this juncture, as Tim Tebow recently pointed out, kickers in the SEC tend to run faster than skill-position players at schools like Notre Dame.
The Irish may well navigate through their difficult schedule with a winning record in 2012, but the idea that they could pull off an undefeated season, then whip Nick Saban's NFL-lite mercenaries at Alabama is a little too farfetched.
The Geek hopes that you enjoyed this inaugural version of the Front-Runner Awards. Come back next Friday for more balloon-popping observations, as we defend underdogs far and wide.
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